writing about learning russian

i read this book that i liked a lot, sometime this spring – beginning of june, i guess – i started it on a cold rainy weekend, amidst some stress, maybe that`s why it made so much PERFECT  sense to me. the book is by caroline adderson, it`s called ‘the sky is falling’.

things this book can be said to be about:

– vancouver!!! the house the heroine rents in is on trutch! and she studies at UBC. so many places and things where i jumped up and gasped as in ‘i was there!’

– the ’80s, the Cold War. this is what the title refers to. of course i know nothing about that, because i`m a)too young, b) from the other side – but for the same reasons i`ve always been curious. though it still sounds very abstract to me. i can`t understand what people were afraid would happen. nowadays we have global warming, and our brand of terrorism, and a response of permanent terror is still weird.

– first love / considering lesbian attraction. what the narrator`s thoughts and feelings and problems are is so removed from sex and couplehood that it endears her instantly. and she`s 20. mmm, i was like YEAH  all along, although of course i realize she didn`t uphold herself as a standard of normality.

– and the name of her love object is sonia. i giggled about it and couldn`t help telling sonja. vancouver and sonias, it`s a thing!

– RUSSIAN. now we`re talking. although this could be split in 2 parts: the literature one and more importantly, the language. i don`t care enough for chekhov, on which the narrator is writing her thesis…but book-wise, at some point, she develops a short theory about kitty`s attachment to and fascination with other women in ‘anna karenina’. on the other hand, language….maaaaan!

i know more russian than her now. which is totally beside the point. the author admittedly speaks no russian at all, and did all the insertions in the text with the help of friends. but the sense of adventure in starting the study, of the doors it opens and the mysteries it entails, and how, without knowing at all what you`re doing you can go around renaming each object automatically – this is so well written. i don`t often envy people for having STOLEN MY THINGS  and written them down, but this is it; one of the cases of, damn, i should have written that, not her. i don`t even mean the whole book, just the interwoven language parts. i realize also that for westerners russian has a different sort of mystique than for me (although i`m questioning that now a bit: it can`t be that different. i come from the west of this language too, and was too young to suffer OF it. if anything, my take on it is americanized, as compared to my parents`…..).

anyway: i have been there, done that. the russian learning. the impressing-people-with-the-strange-alphabet-i-can-write; the letting-them-think-i-am-more-fluent-than-i-actually-am; the instantly-translating-things; the doing-my-homework; the wonder of language acquisition which i had been unable to theorize with either the english or french while getting the basics of them.

the narrator doesn`t choose russian; i don`t even think she says she likes it. she just ends up taking it, passively, where russian is a metaphor for…everything: for the age and times she grows up in, for the actions and plans she gets dragged into, and the general atmosphere – the ominous thrill of it.

so yeah, in spite of the not-so-plotty content, i loved this book from cover to back cover and am recommending it warmly. not only it gave me a huge russian-learning boost, it re-sparked my reading interest and, again, made me miss vancouver.

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